Hominy & Hash
KLEPTO AND OTHER MANIACS
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- The signs posted in dressing rooms of major department stores cannot be ignored. The bold red letters proclaim SHOPLIFTERS WILL BE PROSECUTED, and there is no doubt they mean it. There is the suggestion of cameras and peep holes, but only overtly -- privacy laws prohibit such an invasion where customers are in a state of undress.
Since shoplifting costs the retail industry millions of dollars annually, it is no wonder they stand behind their posted warnings and prosecute.
It's a shock when the rich and famous are "caught in the act," and arrested once leaving the store with ill-gotten gains.
Interestingly enough, I recall only three arrests of star-studded shoplifters: Hedy Lamarr, Bess Myerson, and now Winona Ryder, who is alleged to have taken $5,000 worth of clothes and hair products from Saks Fifth Avenue. She was booked and then released after posting $20,000 bond, pending her appearance for arraignment on Jan. 11. [Now, as November is upon us, her trial is nearing an end in Beverly Hills Municipal Court, under intense media scrutiny, of course.]
"It's all a mistake," her lawyer said. She took the tags off the items as she went from department to department, but, her lawyer adds: "Once they get all the facts, they'll see she didn't take anything. She has receipts for everything in her bag."
I wonder why she didn't produce them at the scene instead of facing felony charges which could mean prison time.
Beverly Hills police Lt. Gary Gilmond, said Ryder was "very friendly, very polite, very cooperative," during the arrest.
In 1988, Bess Myerson, Miss America 1945, was arrested for shoplifting. Following her being crowned as the first Jewish Miss America, she spent decades being famous just for being famous, eventually becoming New York City's cultural affairs commissioner.
At the time of her arrest outside a shopping mall, she was also facing charges for bribery and conspiracy coming from hiring a judge's daughter, presumably to influence the judge to rule favorably toward Myerson's lover in his divorce case.
I mention the stressful trial in Bess Myerson's life at the time she was caught shoplifting because it may be an indicator of kleptomania in her case. Kleptomaniacs are not sticky-fingered people lifting everything they touch. No, they don't steal all the time and they don't steal everything. They often go years between episodes.
There are thieves who take things because they need them or because they're worth money or because they're useful. Kleptomaniacs, on the other hand, take things that might be useless to them. They steal on impulse, not planning ahead. They feel increased tension right before the theft, and, they feel pleasure or relief at the time of the theft. They might set themselves up during a high stress event in their lives to increase stress further in order to feel the pleasure later.
In August 1991, Hedy Lamarr was arrested for shoplifting $21.48 worth of goods from a drugstore in Florida. "I forgot to put them in my cart," she said at the time. Her daughter said calls and cards came from all over the country and added "She is not down and out and doesn't needhelp.
But it happened again, and after this second incident she told a radio interviewer, "I'm sick and tired of being in the limelight." Did that mean she wanted to be seen in a dim light?
According to the McLeod Health Information Library report, "Some people with kleptomania keep the objects they take secret. Others may feel guilty and will try to return the stolen items."
True kleptomania is rare; most people who steal do not have kleptomania However, shoplifting is common, often a rebellious lark in the teen years, perhaps done on a dare. In the general population, people who shoplift, know what they're doing and take things they want.
According to the McLeod report, fewer than five percent of shoplifters have kleptomania. Of the three mentioned here, Winona, Bess and Hedy (and these alleged shoplifters fit the syndrome) not one of them needed the items, nor, if they did, couldn't afford to pay for them.
Unlike the child stars who couldn't find work as adults, burned out and lost, these women were caught stealing just when the world thought they had it all.
Did they have it all, or was the common denominator having an obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorder? Unless someone's lighting fires (pyromaniacs) or pulling out their hair (trichotillomaniacs) or blurting out profanities (Tourette's Syndrome) we're not likely to notice this mental illness.
And, legally, we don't allow for it. Unlike murder, where the legal system has degrees: pre-meditated; temporarily insane; self-defense, etc., the legal penalty for stealing remains the same, regardless of the cause. Any theft worth more than $500 is a felony.
Winona Ryder, the Oscar nominated actress and star of "Girl, Interrupted," is in a real life drama we'll watch unfold. Did she do the crime? And, if so, will she do the time?